.- In an exclusive interview obtained by CNA, Dr. John Haas of the National Catholic Bioethics Center asked Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. about some of the issues facing the Church in the “contemporary context.” In his reply, Archbishop Wuerl spoke about the role of and need for religious freedom in society, a role which is dramatically changing.
While there are several “individual issues” right now, said the archbishop, most of which focus on the dignity and value of human life, “there’s a growing concern” that “our very ability to carry on our activities” is being challenged.
Archbishop Wuerl said that what is taking place across the country, which he himself has experienced in his own archdiocese, is that, “when you begin to address specific issues, whether they are life issues, marriage issues, whether they have to do with the definition of marriage or a whole range of very basic concerns,” Catholics are now facing “the presumption that you do not have a right to express your religious convictions and you do not have a right to live out those convictions in those institutions which are a part of our Catholic faith tradition.”
One issue to which the archbishop referred was the definition of marriage, a contentious issue, especially after the City Council of Washington D.C. passed a law allowing the recognition of same-sex “marriage” without allowing voters to weigh in on the issue. The measure resulted in Catholic Charities of Washington D.C. being forced to stop offering benefits to employees’ spouses and to close their adoption program.
“If you take another position than what is presented by people today … you are defined as discriminatory,” he said. “And because of that, you and your institutions can be very, very severely criticized,” or even sanctioned.
Essentially, what we are facing, Archbishop Wuerl stated, “Is the failure to balance the rights of free expression of religion with all these other newly-created rights that are coming up out of our secular society.”
The archbishop said that, once the balance shifts against the rights of freedom of religious expression, both on a personal level and on an institutional level, “we are going to find ourselves in a situation we’ve never faced before in the United States.” He called it the “tip of the iceberg,” saying that the erosion of the freedom of religious expression would spread across the Western world.
“At the heart of the issue is the failure to recognize the important place that religious values, and religious institutions and religious faith, have always played in the history of our country,” Archbishop Wuerl declared. “This idea, this new pressure, to reduce everything slowly and completely to secular values is going to impact us very dramatically.”
The role of all believers and people of faith, he said, is to speak up and make their voices heard so all will be aware just how much religious faith is part of America’s history and heritage. “Religious faith is a thread that is woven into the very fabric of our nation,” he continued. “Remove that thread and we do damage to the whole cloth.”